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Child Sexual Exploitation

‘Child sexual exploitation is a form of child sexual abuse. It occurs where an individual or group takes advantage of an imbalance of power to coerce, manipulate or deceive a child or young person under the age of 18 into sexual activity (a) in exchange for something the victim needs or wants, and/or (b) for the financial advantage or increased status of the perpetrator or facilitator. The victim may have been sexually exploited even if the sexual activity appears consensual. Child sexual exploitation does not always involve physical contact; it can also occur through the use of technology’ (Definition and a guide for practitioners, local leaders and decision makers working to protect children from child sexual exploitation, HM Government, February 2017).

Child sexual exploitation is never the victim’s fault, even if there is some form of exchange: all children and young people under the age of 18 have a right to be safe and should be protected from harm.

What are the signs?

  • Adults or older youths loitering around children’s homes, care placement or school
  • Persistently missing, staying out at night or returning late with no plausible explanation
  • Leaving home/care setting in clothing unusual for the individual child (e.g. inappropriate for age, borrowing clothing from older children)
  • Acquisition of expensive clothes or clothes that are inappropriate (e.g. skimpy); mobile phones or other possessions without reasonable plausible explanation
  • Truancy/disengagement with education or considerable change in performance at school
  • Volatile behaviour exhibiting an extreme array of mood swings or use of abusive language
  • Getting involved in petty crime such as shoplifting or stealing
  • Entering or leaving vehicles driven by unknown adults and going ‘cruising’ with older people
  • Being taken to parties in private dwellings, hotels/guest houses
  • Hostility in relationship with parents/carers and other family members
  • Returning after having been missing, looking well cared for in spite of having no known home base
  • Returning after having been missing in a dishevelled sate, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, hungry, dirty, dehydrated, distressed etc.
  • Showing signs of sexual activity/abuse, including sexually transmitted infections, terminations, repeated pregnancy testing, pregnancy itself, a reluctance to disclose details etc.
  • Decline in mental health and well-being including self-harm, overdoses etc.
  • Being picked up from outside home, school or on the street in unknown cars or taxis which have not been booked


  • Exploitation can be isolated (one-on-one) or organised group/criminal activity
  • There can be a big age gap between victim and perpetrator, but it can also be peer-on-peer
  • Boys can be targeted just as easily as girls – this is not gender specific
  • Perpetrators can be women and not just men
  • Exploitation can be between males and females or between the same genders
  • Children with learning difficulties can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation as can children from particular groups, e.g. looked after children, young carers, children who have a history of physical, sexual emotional abuse or neglect or mental health problems; children who use drugs or alcohol, children who go missing from home or school, children involved in crime, children with parents/carers who have mental health problems, learning difficulties/other issues, children who associate with other children involved in exploitation. However, it is important to recognise that any child can be targeted
  • Exploitation can take the form of ‘cyber exploitation’ – for example through mobile phones, Facebook, gaming rooms and other social media sites

Help and Advice

If you are concerned that a child may be at risk of exploitation:

  • In an emergency contact the Police
  • Or contact Children’s Services on 0300 555 1384

Department for Education’s CSE guide: This advice is non-statutory, and has been produced to help practitioners, local leaders and decision makers who work with children and families to identify child sexual exploitation and take appropriate action in response. This includes the management,
disruption and prosecution of perpetrators.

Department for Education (publishing.service.gov.uk)

International Centre for the Study of Sexually Exploited and Trafficked Young People: This international centre seeks to increase the understanding of, and improve responses to, CSE, violence and trafficking. The website includes their latest research.


The Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP)

CEOP works with child protection partners across the UK and overseas to identify the main threats to children and coordinates activity against these threats that bring offenders to account.


Barnardo’s: The largest provider of child sexual exploitation support services in the UK. This page provides information on the work that they do and links to their own research and resources relating to CSE.


PACE (Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation)

PACE works alongside parents and carers of children who are being, or are at risk of being, sexually exploited by perpetrators external to the family.


NSPCC: Information research and resources on CSE.


Lucy Faithfull Foundation

The CSE Toolkit, which gives guidance on understanding and preventing CSE.


 CSE Police and Prevention website

The National Child Sexual Exploitation Action Plan has focused on four approaches to help target offenders and protect children and young people through new ways of working. Across the site you can learn more about the analysis, the work undertaken and resources developed to achieve the ambitions of the Action Plan.